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Marriage Makes the Money Go

“And they lived happily ever after!” The romance in the old storybook always ended blissfully in marriage. The valiant Prince Charming slew dragons, vanquished giants, and worsted sorcerers; but once he had attained the fair lady of his dreams, he left all his worries behind him. Today, however, Prince Charming, unless he is an incurable romanticist, realizes that the real struggle begins only after marriage. “Now that you have won the fair lady how are you going to support her?” is the question he must solve satisfactorily before he can qualify as a suitable husband. The answer is determined by two factors: “How much money is earned?” “How can that sum be spent most efficiently?” The first query is quickly disposed of. The second, however, requires careful thought and planning. Its solu tion is up to both the husband and the wife, for each couple must work out their individual problem. We wish we could do it for them, but we can’t. At best we can only give the rules which we have evolved as the result of our own experience. The first step in the art of orderly spending is the preparation of an adequate budget. This is not so formidable as it seems, for the budget is nothing more than an inventory of resources and a calculation of needs that will help you develop a schedule of spending which should be fair to both you and your partner. It will differ in detail for each couple, because no matter how similar circumstances may seem to be, senses of values will vary. At the start, however, it is well to keep an itemized account of expenditures to aid in adjusting your budget to actual needs and to learn just how much you are spending for each item. You may find that you have been paying more for some things than you thought you were. Once you have settled on the approximate amount to be allotted to each purpose, however, you probably will find that keeping a written record of every purchase is more of a nuisance than a help. It may help you to plan your budget if you study some of the model estimates published from time to time by savings banks, life-insurance companies, and other financial organizations. You who are just planning to be married, however, will find that these statements are compiled usually for families with two or three children. At best they will only roughly approximate your special problems. Let us consider the situation faced by a young couple just starting out in married life. Generally speaking, if you live in a big city and your income is about $100 a month, you will pay about $35 to the landlord. Rents, unfortunately, are disproportionately high in the largest urban centers, for persons of limited means. In smaller communities, you undoubtedly will find quarters for somewhat less. Your food, at the present price level, will cost at least $25 a month for an adequate diet—and this assumes extremely intelligent and careful buying. Transportation to and from work for one person will cost not less than $2.50 a month. Total transportation costs for both of you—if only one works—will be between $3 and $4. Not more than $10 a month should be spent for clothes, and at least $6 must be set aside for insurance and savings. This leaves roughly $20 a month for all other expenses. It is not easy for two to live on $100 a month—but it is being done. While it is not true that two can live as cheaply as one, two persons who are in love may live more happily if they marry and both continue to work than if they undergo the strain of a long engagement. This problem, however, must be worked out with reference to the particular case, for, as pointed out in an earlier article in this series, it is more difficult for a man to get a foothold in certain professions if he marries before his apprenticeship is complete. It seems obvious that if you are wed before the man finishes his professional preparation, you will not wish to have children for the time being and that the wife will continue to support herself. I have seen many complications caused by the arrival of children before the husband had completed his professional training. One young couple I knew were getting along very smoothly while the wife was working and her husband was spending his last year in medical school. The arrival of a baby made it necessary for her to quit her job. This, in turn, made it imperative for the man to earn a livelihood. He took a position in a department store where today—ten years later—he is still a junior employee. By now, in the ordinary course of events, he might have been established in the profession for which he was studying. All young couples, fortunately, do not encounter such tragedies. If your income is around $2000 a year, your financial position is relatively more secure. You may find a suitable apartment in a large city for between $50 and $60 a month—including heat and hot water. The rent in a smaller community will be less, but remember that if you furnish your own heat and hot water, you must add the cost of fuel. If, to save money, you move beyond the public transportation system, you must include the cost and upkeep of a car. But even considering the added expense of an automobile (provided you take care of it partly yourself and thus save some service charges) you may have better living conditions and derive more enjoyment from life than if you lived closer to town. Your food budget now may be about $40 a month—enough for a liberal diet. Your clothing allowance should be sufficient for average needs— say, $15. Insurance and savings should be greater than those of the couple in the $1200 group. At least 14 percent of your income now should be set aside for these purposes. If you plan to have children on an income of between $2000 and $3000 a year, you still will be able to live comfortably, but you probably will be happier if you move into a community made up of young people of your own income group. This will enable the mothers to make various sorts of cooperative arrangements for child care, which serve the threefold purpose of giving the children desirable social experience, providing the mother with more freedom, and keeping costs down. It also contributes toward a congenial social life for the adults. The proportions to be spent for the larger items hold true in general for the family whose income is between $2000 and $3000 a year. Without knowing your individual circumstances, however, no one can make a budget for you in minute detail. The amounts you should allot to various items are governed by many considerations. For example, there are some types of employment that require more expensive clothes than others, while some professions necessitate the purchase of equipment. Again, the major proportions will change with the needs of your dependents, whether these are children or older persons who look to you for help. Moreover, a wife who confines her activities to the home will do many money-saving chores and require fewer clothes than she would if she, too, went to business. Notwithstanding these individual variations, the foregoing rules of thumb will be helpful in keeping you within safe bounds. But the proportion of your income to be spent for various purposes is only a small part of your problem. Don’t be surprised if your budget fails to balance. Probably 95 percent of those who attempt to budget their family expenses have this experience. The primary reason is that few persons really know what it costs to live. This is due, in part, to the fact that we often confuse total expenses with day-to-day expenses. Most people think of living costs as the immediate outlay for food, clothing, and shelter, disregarding the important item of depreciation. The average housewife understands depreciation as it applies to food in a refrigerator, but gives very little thought to the same process as it applies to furniture, appliances, motorcar, clothing, and the house she lives in— if she and her husband own it. When replacement or repair of these more durable goods becomes necessary, there often is no fund available for the purpose. If replacement or repair is made, the budget is thrown out of balance. If neither is undertaken, depreciation sets in all the faster. In order to catch up at this point, many couples take what seems at the time to be the easiest way out—they borrow money. This may appear to solve the problem, but actually the repayment of the loan throws the budget farther out of balance. Not only that, but a substantial interest charge must be met. To cover such obligations, you will have to curtail your living expenses, and you will find this much harder to do than to save for these emergencies in the first place. One of the greatest financial difficulties encountered by young people (and many older ones, too, for that matter) is that of making an intelligent decision in the purchase of such important and costly items as a house, mechanical home appliances, furniture, and life insurance. The reason why it is difficult to select these things is that we buy them too seldom to acquire much experience with reference to them. Life insurance is a subject on which very few of us have specific information. It is as important as it is trite to point out that the amount and the type of insurance should be governed by the kind of hazards against which you should provide. Yet it is necessary to realize that the need of protection changes as life progresses. A father with young, dependent children should carry considerably more insurance than a man with no dependents other than his wife. Consequently, it is desirable to carry two types of insurance: on the one hand, a straight life contract, entered into preferably early in life when annual premiums are lower, and, on the other hand, successive renewable term-insurance policies which may be purchased when temporary responsibilities, such as the rearing of children, are undertaken. Protection for a childless wife might be limited to an amount equal to two years of the husband’s salary. Roughly, the same amount of term insurance may be taken out for each child. The earlier in life such policies are acquired, of course, the smaller the annual premiums. Renewable term-insurance premiums are lower than straight life insurance because in the former there is no cash surrender value. Term insurance, like fire insurance, buys protection—and nothing else. It is a mistake to look at life insurance as a primary form of saving because, generally speaking, the more the life-insurance policy conforms to a savings account, the less effectively and economically it affords protection against the hazard of death. Buy the life insurance as life insurance and put your savings into a savings account. It is well to remember at this point, too, that if you can accumulate enough to pay your insurance premiums yearly—rather than weekly or monthly—you will pay a lower rate. The purchase of a home is another difficult undertaking for the newly married couple because the average person cannot tell the difference between a well-built house and one which is poorly constructed. Unless there is some understanding of this matter, it probably will be wiser to defer the purchase of a house and live in rented quarters until one acquires such knowledge. It must be remembered, also, that the upkeep of a dwelling is likely to come to a substantial figure and that the budget may be severely strained if one does not know in advance the actual costs of owning real estate. Not the least of these items to be investigated is the amount of assessments which are or may be levied against the property. The likelihood of such levies is seldom pointed out by the real-estate salesman. Furthermore, if one’s position is insecure or there is a possibility of being transferred to another section of the country in the course of one’s employment, it would be wiser to live in rented quarters. It is a good general rule to pay no more than twice one year’s salary for a house; of this amount, not less than 10 percent will be required generally as a “down payment.” Then you will have to pay interest and amortization on your mortgage, which, with taxes and upkeep, probably will come to as much as the rent for a similar house. At the end of a period of years, however, you own the house, which is a definite advantage. Perhaps you have decided, as many young couples do today, that you will both work for wages. The arrival of a baby or possibly some other unplanned event may force the wife to give up her job. If you would avoid real difficulties, therefore, try from the outset to meet the big items—rent, food, essential clothing, and the minimum of insurance and savings—out of the husband’s earnings. Let the wife’s earnings cover only those items which, though desirable, are less important to your welfare, such as “luxury” clothes, recreation, and items of a similar character. Any couple who depend on the wife’s earnings for such essentials as food, clothing, and shelter should be prepared to adopt a lower scale of expenditure for any of or all these purposes, for as a general rule her contribution to the family income is likely to be less certain than that of her husband. The time to take on additional expenses is after an increase in the husband’s wages—not before. Guard against the assumption of obligations which you could not meet if your combined income were reduced. Simple as this rule would seem to be, I have seen it ignored time and time again, usually with the same unhappy result. I have in mind the case of a couple whom we shall call the Browns. Doris Brown supplemented her husband’s salary by giving piano lessons at home. They planned to have a baby and could well have managed to do so with but a short interruption to Doris’ teaching activity. But—and this is what so many couples contemplating children overlook—complications set in which made it necessary for her to spend the last six months of pregnancy in a hospital. Not only did the family income decline by the amount she had earned, but expenses increased greatly. Some of the deficit was made up by borrowing, but there is a limit to the amount that can be obtained in this manner. That limit was reached before the last $150 was paid on the grand piano which Doris required for her work. As a result, the piano was taken back by the dealer. The Browns, fortunately, are persons who do not give in readily in the face of adversity. They will work out their own problem and regain lost ground. Indeed, they have already moved into cheaper living quarters, not only to adapt themselves to a smaller income but also to work out of debt and re-acquire a piano. Much of the heartache in this situation might have been avoided if the couple had depended less on the wife’s income to meet essential expenses. One of the greatest pitfalls in the path of any young couple is the feeling that they must “keep up with the Joneses.” We all think of ourselves as belonging to a certain social group—whether we express it in snobbish terms or not. But we need not on that account maintain a standard comparable to that of a neighbor whom we admire if, in doing so, we overextend ourselves. Intelligent persons are not impressed favorably by pretense. What impresses is training and ability. Since the best time to acquire these is when we are young, it may be necessary for a while to practice the very opposite of ostentation—self-sacrifice. If your husband is a profes sional man and you have married early, he may still be working for an advanced degree. This entails fees and—what is even more exacting— time. It means sacrifice—giving up social engagements and many comforts which you would be able to have on your husband’s present salary. There is no more basic part of the budget today than provision for more vocational training. Most of us waste money on nonessentials. We have glass curtains before we can afford them, whereas no curtains often make our houses lighter and more restful. We have fancy trays, knickknacks, and extra little tables that we do not need. The most attractive houses are in many cases those which show no evidence of overcrowding. How many women, if they look into their bureau drawers, will not find them cluttered with accessories which either are not used or, if worn, spoil the elegance and tidy distinction of their costumes? Buying wisely is an art, but it requires no special talent—only a willingness to learn— and there are any number of books and magazine articles available that will help you to be better buyers. There are a few general recommendations, however, which may be made. For example, don’t buy without asking yourself in each instance: “Do I need this?” and “Will it fit in with other things I now have, or will it require further buying?” Thus a brown coat, no matter how cheap, is no bargain if all your accessories are black. Another important principle of good buying is: Be sure you know what you want; then buy the best you can afford. The best is usually the cheapest in the long run. It means fewer replacements, longer use, and better appearance from the start. Analogous to wasting money on second-grade goods is the purchase of imitations of articles you can’t afford. Don’t buy things that require expensive upkeep. Washing is cheaper than dry-cleaning, and if you have washable clothes and furnishings that can be handled at home, you will not be stranded in a period when you have to cut costs by doing the work yourself. Buy from well-established merchants. Their reputation is valuable, to you and to them alike. Avoid the fly-by-night shop and its vaunted “bargains.” I have known brides who spent their meager food allowances on useless trimmings. Such ignorance is inexcusable; no woman these days need go without competent advice on food purchases. She has only to consult her favorite magazine. Most budgets allow something for the theatre, social affairs, weekends, vacation, and travel for pleasure. The proportion of your income to be spent on recreation is a matter about which we must not be dogmatic. You must figure out what you want most. In the first place, recreation requires the allotment of time and money to do things which you most enjoy, and these will differ for every couple. We may easily overemphasize the kind of recreation for which we pay money. It is true that theatre tickets, phonograph records, and the like are expensive and offer a passive form of entertainment, more appropriate for older people. When you are young and trying to be happy on little money, it is foolish to believe that you have to buy your fun. Whether or not you have a good time depends not on how much money you spend but on whether you and your husband are fundamentally good companions. Have you the spirit of play and the ability to enjoy things together? Then you have one of life’s most precious gifts. Preserve it by exercise. Wherever you live, there are inexpensive ways of getting into the woods, picnicking together, walking, swimming, and enjoying all sorts of outdoor sports at very little cost. Such recreation is good for you physically, and great fun besides. Many young couples spend so much emotional energy on their children that they lose the invaluable habit of running off to play together. Wherever you cut expenses, do not neglect to go off together frequently as you did when you were engaged. No money is better spent than the small fee for hiring a person to look after the children while husband and wife take a picnic lunch together, a long walk, or do whatever it is they most enjoy. Too common today are people like Mary and Jim, who, in their eagerness to do all that books and lectures recommend for little Peter, got so involved in his welfare that they lost all their sense of fun. They are today thoroughly dull people, no longer interesting socially. Jim has failed to rise in his business, for he mislaid the spark of enthusiasm which made him an asset to his employer. Most unhappy is poor Peter, who has become a genuine problem child. Entertaining may seem important to you, but young couples are not expected to engage in any sort of formal social activity. Avoid expensive dinner parties and substitute informal gatherings where both the preparation and the cost of food will be slight. If you are original and vivacious hosts, your guests will have a jolly time. Your budget should provide something for medical service. Remember that the largest dental bill comes after a period of neglect. You should not have to spend much in fees for the family doctor. Select one with care and talk over your circumstances with him in a friendly way. Don’t be afraid to ask him what his fee will be. It is a false kind of pride that leads one to hesitate in discussing professional fees frankly and fully. Investigate the three-cents-a-day hospital plan in your community. No more serious question of expense will confront you than the cost of children. The direct expense for hospital and medical care incidental to the arrival of a baby varies in different parts of the country, but it is safe to say that in cities it will be somewhere between $100 and $200 as a minimum. However, you need not expect to enjoy the frills of a private room and special nurses and think the doctor will take care of you for a nominal fee; there is no reason why he should. Having a baby is not a disease, and you will not need to have fussy care. You should, however, put something aside for those extra expenses which are almost certain to occur. During the baby’s first year, regular medical care should be provided. Your doctor may suggest a contract under which you would pay him a specified amount to keep baby well and receive his services whenever you need them during that period. Under such a plan you may pay anywhere from $50 to $300 a year. If you prefer to pay by the visit, you take the risk; it may cost more, or it may amount to less in the course of a year than it would under the terms of a definite contract. It is easy to be extravagant in buying unnecessary clothes and toys for the child. Remember that a baby is happiest in the simplest surroundings and that the only two things you can give your child which are of permanent value are good health and an acceptable social attitude. If you have the sort of home which leads him to develop a friendly, happy disposition and teaches him the necessity of living honestly and sincerely with no attempt to conceal mistakes, you will give him as much as any parent can give any child. It is for yourself and not for your possessions that your children may “arise up, and call you blessed.” It is important to you both to keep up your appearance in order to be as attractive physically and mentally as before you were married. But you may have to be very ingenious in devising short cuts to this end when the permanent wave you planned for or the new suit you hoped to buy is deferred by the need to put some more money into your husband’s preparation for his business or profession or by any other emergency which might arise. The pluck with which you meet these disappointments is a measure of your fitness for marriage. In my own observation, among the young business and professional group I have seen less genuine lack of money than fretful stupidity which was expressed in poor management. A lack of imagination and resourcefulness often paves the way to tragedy. We are living in a fascinating age, but under a complex economy that makes many demands on our spirit of pioneering and adventure. It was picturesque—daring, perhaps—to leave comfortable homes and settled communities as our great-grandparents did, adventuring into new country. It sounds romantic to live in a sodhouse and wrestle with nature. The truth is that they pretty well had to do these things to carve out a niche for themselves in their economic system. We young married people may have to live in a walk-up in an unfashionable part of town, but the same spirit of daring adventure and the identical will to make a go of things animates us. If you have that spirit, you can afford to get married, and I can assure you that the rewards of facing your problems and seeing them through together are high. Such a marriage is firmly rooted, and when its buoyant young love matures, its flower is an enduring happiness that nothing else can equal.

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